by Stephanie Kestelman
Originally published: March 29, 2016
Women’s History Month is as much about celebrating how far we have come as it is about paving the way to gender equality. While women have made much progress in entering and succeeding in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), economics, philosophy and other male-dominated fields, we are still far from achieving full equality. According to 2013 US-level data, female-identifying students made up only 19 percent of engineering majors, 18 percent of computer science majors, 19 percent of physics majors, and 29 percent of economics majors. Take one look around the Science Center, a philosophy seminar, or economics lectures in Sci 101 and you will see these numbers at play here at Swarthmore. It is not uncommon to be one of a few or the only woman in classes in male-dominated majors, and it’s an experience I’ve had many times.
A large part of the gender gap in these fields revolves around how women behave and how they perceive themselves. We must continue the good work being done to address this side of the issue, by encouraging women to be confident and build themselves as well as their female peers up. We must continue to build and strengthen communities of women who empower one another and push for greater equality through a coalition. For example, I admire so much the work that WICS (Women in Computer Science) does to build a strong community within Swat’s CS department. They empower women across class years to take risks and thrive in a field that still feels like a “boys club” at times.
We must also continue to encourage female students to find mentors and faculty members who will advocate for them and incentivize them to pursue opportunities they would otherwise not take. I don’t think I would have submitted papers for publication if it hadn’t been for my male and female professors in the Economics department. I did not think I could produce worthwhile research, but they challenged me to take risks, and now I am considering pursuing a Ph.D. in economics. These are only some of the ways in which we must continue to empower female students in male-dominated fields.